Editorial: Illegal immigrant rumors are lies by the busload

You might have seen or read about something stupid that happened last week on social media. Per the Associated Press:

“A Michigan state lawmaker involved in former President Donald Trump’s election denials is being widely criticized after the Republican made false claims that buses carrying college athletes to Detroit for March Madness were shuttling illegal migrant ‘invaders’ into the city.

“State House Rep. Matt Maddock made the claim Wednesday night in a social media post accompanied by photos of three buses near an Allegiant plane at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Maddock wrote that the buses ‘just loaded up with illegal invaders. … Anyone have any idea where they’re headed with their police escort?’” on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

It turned out that these “illegal invaders” were in fact members of the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team. Maddock was properly laughed at and made an object of ridicule. That’s what you can expect when you have no regard for the facts and just spout off any old thing. Of course, Maddock wasn’t hearing it, and he continued to insist with a self-righteous determination only liars know that somehow he was right regardless of the truth. We all know the type.

Which brings us to an equally stupid thing that happened just a week or so earlier on social media right here in Columbus.

A local online rumor mill with little regard for the truth did a curiously similar thing. The Columbus Man Facebook page, which highlights unverified local gossip, pictures of the latest fender-bender, rants about customer service, and ruminations on conspiracy theories, posted this on March 22:

“Have you heard about the 6 buses of alleged illegal migrants that have been dropped off at the Edinburg (sic) outlet mall sheriff department on the scene now.”

It was a lie.

The buses were transporting United States military service members.

How do we know? Because, in acts of journalism, we checked out this social media post that had caused a stir in our community, something its originator could not be bothered to do. We picked up the phone and talked to people at the sheriff’s department, the bus line and Camp Atterbury.

We gathered the facts, then posted a story on Friday refuting Columbus Man’s unchecked, unsourced fabrications.

It appears in the Columbus case that the name of the bus company — Abbott Bus Lines — correlated in someone’s mind to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who famously has been busing immigrants north from his state. And that was enough for someone to concoct that completely false Columbus Man post about “alleged illegal migrants.”

“Oh my heavens,” was the laughing reaction of Heather Carlisle, manager of Roanoke, Va.-based Abbott Bus Lines, when The Republic told her about this local kerfuffle. Then she was incredulous. “We’re in Indiana hauling military,” she said.

Carlisle explained the company had chartered buses to transport service members from a base in West Virginia. She said the buses were at the outlet mall because the service members had spent the night at a nearby hotel.

“People don’t research anything, they just assume,” Carlisle said. Tell us about it.

She said the 100-year-old family-owned bus line she works for has dealt with a lot of people making similarly wrong assumptions about Abbott Bus Lines ever since Gov. Abbott started busing immigrants.

“We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls,” she said, exasperation rising in her voice. “… We have nothing to do with anything about it, and it’s really getting agitating.”

After The Republic reported on our website what was actually happening, Columbus Man didn’t take down its post. Instead, Columbus Man posted The Republic story, then doubled down on its ignorance, inventing conspiracies where none existed.

“The outlet mall wasn’t open when this was reported at 9 AM. It doesn’t add up,” Columbus Man huffed, certain of its own wild speculation. “The (Republic) loves skewing the facts to fit its narrative ….”

Here’s the problem with that: The Republic didn’t have a “narrative” to defend. The narrative was Columbus Man’s ginned up conspiracy theory and fearmongering. But Columbus Man takes no responsibility and apparently no remorse or even concern for that, let alone for calling our service members “alleged illegal migrants” on a public forum and then continuing to stand by the lie.

Columbus Man has always been unreliable, ridiculous and irresponsible, but this was reckless, and there’s nothing funny about that.